Abe "Kid Twist" Reles
In the 1930s, Abe Reles was one of the Brownsville, Brooklyn, assassins within the Syndicate's Murder Inc. wing. Reles answered to Murder Inc. boss and labor racketeer Louis "Lepke" Buchalter. When the State of New York brought first degree murder charges against Reles, the hit-man decided to answer to Uncle Sam instead. Reles became an informant for prosecutor Burton Turkus and provided information on Murder Inc.'s methods, hierarchy and relationship to the American Mafia. Thanks largely to Reles's information, Buchalter was convicted of a capital offense. He was eventually executed in the electric chair on March 5, 1944. A number of Buchalter's paid assassins met similar ends. Albert Anastasia, who served as the link between Murder Inc. and the Mafia, came under intense scrutiny. It seems Anastasia was saved by Reles's untimely death - the informant happened to fly out his hotel window on Nov. 12, 1941, while being guarded by police. Officials decided that Reles had been trying to escape out his sixth-floor window.
While few Mafiosi were jailed as a result of Joe Valachi's underworld revelations in the early 1960s, his televised appearances before Senate rackets investigators opened the public's eyes to organized crime. Despite what has been written elsewhere, Valachi was NOT the first Mafioso to cooperate. (Some writers are determined, without regard to contrary evidence, to label their subjects the "first" of this or the "last" of that.) Omerta silence has been broken on numerous occasions, and American Mafiosi have been testifying against each other since at least as far back as 1890. Valachi had been a veteran of the Castellamarese War that ultimately empowered Charlie Luciano, and he recalled names and dates and places. Valachi had been an associate of the Reina/Gagliano Family (he married Tom Reina's daughter Mildred), a soldier in Salvatore Maranzano's personal guard and a soldier in the Luciano/Genovese Family. A string of narcotics convictions in the 1950s left him looking at a long sentence in Atlanta Federal Prison. When Vito Genovese seemed to turn on him in 1962, Valachi mistook a fellow prisoner for a hired assassin and killed that prisoner. Facing a serious -- possibly life-ending -- punishment for the homicide and the threat of assassination by his old comrades, Valachi turned to federal narcotics agents for help. He eventually talked to the FBI. The Kennedy Justice Department saw the opportunity to use Valachi to lay out before all of America its case against the Mafia. Justice equipped Valachi with information that was beyond his personal knowledge in order to make his Senate speeches more informative and credible. Valachi lived in custody for a decade after turning on the underworld. He died of natural causes in 1971.
Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno
Intimately familiar with the crime families in the American West and Midwest and knowledgeable about organizations across the country, Fratianno became a high-level Mafia snitch to the FBI in the late 1970s. Fratianno was most familiar with the Los Angeles organization of Dragna, Licata and Brooklier, reportedly serving for a time as acting boss under Brooklier. When his old buddies suspected him of treachery and made threats against his life, Fratianno sought government protection. His life story is preserved in The Last Mafioso.
Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano
Salvatore Gravano is widely regarded as the turncoat Mafia underboss who sent John Gotti Sr. to prison. In fact, Gotti was probably undone more by his own words, picked up through FBI surveillance, than by Gravano's words. (In fact, surveillance tapes, in which Gotti talked agrily about Gravano, were used by the federal agents to turn Gravano.) But Gravano's testimony was certainly a big part of the government's case against the Gambino Family boss. Born March 12, 1945, and raised in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, Gravano was part of a street gang by the early 1960s. A decade later, he was initiated into boss Paul Castellano's Gambino Family. He was raised in rank to captain when Gotti disposed of Castellano in December 1985. From that point, Gravano became Gotti's trusted ally and enforcer. By 1990, he reached the position of underboss. His term was ended a year later, when FBI agents arrested him and the rest of the Gambino Family leadership. Prosecutors had the goods on Gravano and could have sent him away for life. But Gravano cut a deal and testified against his old friend and boss in exchange for an abbreviated sentence. During his testimony, Gravano admitted to participating in at least 19 murders. A jury convicted Gotti of murder and racketeering in spring of 1992. He was sentenced to life. Gravano's short prison sentence was up in 1995. After a brief time in the witness protection program, he settled in Arizona. Despite the generous second-chance he had been given, Gravano couldn't keep his nose clean, and he was convicted late in 2002 of operating a drug trafficking ring. He was sentenced to 19 years. Prosecutors have been looking for a way to extend that sentence. Bergen County, NJ, officials attempted to use one underworld turncoat against another, as mob assassin Richard Kuklinski's (below) evidence helped indict Gravano for the murder of a New York detective in 2003. But Kuklinski died before the case came to trial, and the Bergen County prosecutor decided to drop the matter.
Michael "Mikey Scars" DiLeonardo
Michael DiLeonardo appears to know a great deal about the workings of New York's Gambino Crime Family. His appearances in two legal cases designed to topple that family's leadership have been frank and informative. However, both cases have failed, ending in mistrials. DiLeonardo, who claims to be descended from turn-of-the-20th-Century immigrant Black Hand extortionists, began cooperating with authorities after his arrest in 2002. He helped prosecutors understand the nature of Gambino construction, trucking and stock market rackets, and he shed light on a number of underworld murders. He was also very helpful in detailing the Gambino Family's problems with Salvatore Gravano's (above) business practices when he served as underboss to John Gotti Sr. During his court appearances, DiLeonardo explained membership lists of the New York area families, which had fallen into the hands of investigators.
Richard "Iceman" Kuklinski
While serving several life sentences on murder charges, freelance assassin Richard Kuklinski became talkative. He talked to authors, he talked to television producers and reporters, and he talked to the office of the Bergen County Prosecutor. His conversations led Prosecutor John L. Molinelli to pursue murder charges against Salvatore Gravano (above) in 2003. A murder indictment accused Gravano, already in prison on drug charges, of hiring Kuklinski to gun down New York Police Detective Peter Calabro on March 14, 1980. But Molinelli's attempt to use one informant against another was frustrated by Kuklinski's death on March 5, 2005, before the Gravano case could be tried. In interviews, Kuklinski admitted to killing about 100 people. Many of those murders were done under contract with New York region Mafia families. He claimed to have often used a cyanide spray, but he seemed equally comfortable with firearms. Kuklinski acquired his "Iceman" nickname when authorities learned that he sometimes stored the bodies of his victims in an industrial freezer housed in a leased warehouse. He did that to delay decomposition and cause medical examiners to state incorrect times of death. Kuklinski was 70 years old when he died in a secure wing of St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, NJ, where he was being treated for heart, kidney and lung problems. While not immediately providing a cause of death, authorities stated that his death was not suspicious.
Other Informants / Government Witnesses
Turning coat is actually as much an American Mafia tradition as keeping silent is said to be. Thanks to various influences - the Witness Protection Program, the increasingly affluent lifestyles of many underworld figures, the harsh prison penalties for drug offenses and other crimes, and the even more harsh measures used by the Mafia to discipline members - "flipping" has become commonplace. It would be impossible to list in this space all the mobsters who have provided evidence to investigators. Here are some of the more noteworthy figures:
Charles "Millionaire Charlie" Matranga: During the summer of 1890, the boss of the New Orleans Mafia, testified in open court against the leadership of a rival underworld organization responsible for seriously wounding his brother.
Greg "Killing Machine" Scarpa: The Colombo Family capo's career as an FBI mole allegedly spanned three decades. Documents indicate that Scarpa traveled south and terrorized some Ku Klux Klan members to aide mid-1960s Bureau cases. Known by some as "Grim Reaper," Scarpa regularly fed information to federal agents while leading one faction in a family civil war upon Joe Colombo's death. Scarpa died of AIDS, reportedly contracted through a blood transfusion, in 1994.
Raffaele Danniello and Tony Notaro: These two New York Camorra members and "hit-men" testified against their own group leaders in a 1918 murder trial. The trial resulted in the conviction of Brooklyn Camorra leaders Pellegrino Morano and Alessandro Vollero for setting up the 1916 assassinations of Nicholas Terranova and Charles Ubriaco.
Charlie "Lucky" Luciano: Even Lucky cooperated. In an effort to avoid prosecution for drug trafficking, young Luciano cooperated in a narcotics investigation. There is also reason to believe that the future underworld czar passed information to federal agents during a beating that left him permanently scarred and that he helped set up his own underboss, Vito Genovese, for a drug bust. Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky are also believed to have cooperated in setting up Genovese.
Angelo "Big Ange" Lonardo: The Cleveland underboss reduced his prison term from life-plus-a-century to just under two years by providing information against members of the Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Milwaukee families and against the New York Commission.
Frank Culotta and Nick Calabrese: Acquainted with the Chicago Outfit's operations in Vegas, these two informants provided information on the 1986 murders of Anthony and Michael Spilotro.
Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso: Prosecutors have benefited from the Lucchese Family underboss's insider knowledge since 1994. But, due to credibility issues, he has not taken a seat in a witness stand to date. Casso is believed to have been involved in three dozen murders. He admitted responsibility for the bombing death of Gambino underboss Frank DeCicco in 1986.
Alphonse D'Arco: The one-time Lucchese Family bigshot joined the federal Witness Protection Program and began testifying against his former colleagues on Sept. 21, 1991. D'Arco, born July 28, 1932, in Brooklyn, became a made Lucchese member within Paul Vario's crew in 1982. He became a capo in 1988.
Joseph Massino: The Bonanno Crime Family boss began cooperating after a July 2004 conviction for multiple murders and racketeering. Massino faced an additional murder charge punishable by death. He agreed to wear a government listening device during two meetings with his successor.
Ralph Natale: A former boss of the Philadelphia mob began cooperating with federal investigators in mid-1999, when he faced charges of operating a drug ring.
While neither knowingly provided information to government investigators, both Joe "Bananas" Bonanno and Raymond Patriarca Jr. unintentionally divulged details damaging to the American Mafia. In his autobiography "A Man of Honor," Bonanno provided federal prosecutors with much of the information needed to bring down the ruling Mafia Commission. Bonanno explained the functions and membership of the Commission. The book provided a prosecution map for then-U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani. Raymond Patriarca Jr., while boss of the New England Crime Family, conducted a 1989 Mafia induction ceremony within range of a surveillance device. It was the first time law enforcement was able to listen in as Mafia members were "made."